Three Amigo’s

It is not often that you come across three friends who love the Lord and whose example is exceptional and also compelling.  So, today I want to introduce to you three young ladies that have taught me much about ministry, not so much in word, but in deed.  They are all an encouragement to me and I am blessed to know them as friends.  Let me introduce to you, Marina, Indira and Emily.

marina1Marina has been a christian for just over three years.   I met here just after that conversion on my first trip to Ufa.  Soon she was growing in the Lord and serving Him where she could.  Now, three years later she spends most of her days ministering to the street children in the city of Ufa and is a great help and support in the newly established Church of Grace in one  of Ufa’s centers.  Some nights she makes food and seeks out the street kids to provide them with a meal.  On other nights the kids show up at her church for a program and some food, and although not her main ministry, Marina helps with translation, and did so on many occasions while our team visited over the past two weeks.  She is committed to the Lord and to serving these struggling and volatile kids.

indiraIndira is a student at St. Petersburg State University in St. Petersburg, Russia.  She came home for a two week break from school and with the encouragement of her sister Emily (see below) came and served our ministry team as well as serve with us.  She is humble, gentle and a willing servant of the Lord.  I can’t wait to see what God has in store for her.

emilyEmily is Indira’s older sister.  She has been serving as the Northern California Antioch Initiative Translator for over three years and is exceptional in that role.  She is, however, far more than just a translator.  She is a coordinator, a tour guide, an office worker, a middleman, etc. etc.  She pours herself into the ministry of the Lord and serves teams like ours with great passion and vigor.  She loves what she does and loves the people with whom she works.  She loves the church and ultimately loves the Lord.  Oh, yes, I can’t forget to mention that she actively teaches English as a means to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

All three of these ladies are faithful servants and have encouraged me once again.  Girls, thank you for how you challenge me by your example, service and love for the Lord and the Body of Christ.

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Banya…Russian Style

Well, I have only been to a Russian Banya a couple of times before and each time I have enjoyed it a lot.  Well, today I had the privilege of doing it again with my team mates, Chris, Kenny and Stephen.  It was a first time experience for Chris and Stephen, but both were troopers and threw themselves at it.

Now, if you don’t know what a Russian Banya is, let me explain it.  First, the banya is similar to a sauna, but it usually has three rooms.  So, the first thing you do is undress, then we enter the middle room and then the inner sanctum where the heat is burning hot to sweat and then eventually to be beaten with birch branches by a man standing naked wearing only a banya beenie, kind of like a Robin Hood hat but without the feather.  So, that is the idea…

banyaWell, this evening we all entered the inner sanctum, some sitting high in the room on the special bench made for beating and others spread around the small room.  In one corner is a fire pot belly stove of sorts with rocks and stones sitting on top.  In the other corner is a plastic 50 gallon tub full of cold water.  Soon water is added to the burning and hot rocks and hot steam is created in the room.  We all sit, talk and tell stories for a while and every few minutea add more water to the coals.  It is kind of like being the frog in the kettle.  Then when things are really hot, we endure, and endure and then we take a break and move into the other room, have some cold drinks and relax.  After that we go back into the inner sanctum and add more water to that coals.  That is followed by more fellowship, sweating, talking and waiting until the next break which comes is after another time of steam and endurance.  A quick trip to the cool down room and a round of cold drink and now it is time for a beating.  Stephen goes first as he is the rookie and this is his first time experience.  But the room seems so much hotter than it did.  Stephen lays down on the top tier and Albert grabs the birch branches in one hand and puts on his protective beenie for his head with the other hand.  He wears it to protect his head from the hot steam that will be high in the room.  Then he soaks the birch branches one more time in the water and holds them over the steaming coals for about 10 seconds, just enough time for the water to start to sizzle.  Then the beating begins…first the back, then the ___________, then the legs and finally the feet, back up the body and to the back again.  Then the branches are used to rub down the body, they now feel cool and the sensation is wonderful.  Another dip in the cool water for the branches, a few more blows and any sin you have committed has been cast out.  Stephen gingerly steps down with a big smile of satisfaction, relief, wonder and pride (he’s in the club now) and the next person is up…that was me.  And so it went…

When we had all been beaten almost everyone rean out and rolled in the snow…I know, its not the most pleasant picture, but all the ladies were at the Women’s Conference, so it was a safe environment.  Then back into the inner sanctum to sizzle once more.

Oh, did I mention that they have flavors for the steam:  Barbecue – Hickory – Honey glazed, and the one that we used – eucolyptus…  And you think that I am joking!!!

Then we sat and talked for another 45 minutes to an hour and talked about ministry in Russia.  Why not, there isn’t much else to do in the banya than talk.

At the end of the evening, we each dipped a two gallon bucket into the large container in the corner of the room.  It had cool water…. and we poured it over our bodies to cool down…it was a shock at first, but it felt really good.

We then dressed, went into the house where we all had chicken noodle soup, sausage, fruit and more tea.

Honestly…you should do it if you ever have the chance.